Popular and beautiful Fanny Trellis is forced into a loveless marriage with an older man, Jewish banker Job Skeffington, in order to save her beloved brother Trippy from an embezzlement charge and predictable complications result.
Set in antebellum New Orleans during the early 1850's, this film follows Julie Marsden through her quest for social redemption on her own terms. Julie is a beautiful and free spirited, rapacious Southern belle who is sure of herself and controlling of her fiancé Preston Dillard, a successful young banker. Julie's sensitive but domineering personality--she does not want so much to hurt as to assert her independence--forces a wedge between Preston and herself. To win him back, she plays North against South amid a deadly epidemic of yellow fever which claims a surprising victim. Written by
Adam Brodsky <email@example.com>
Jezebel was Bette Davis's consolation prize for losing the Scarlett O'Hara sweepstakes. Considering the sacrifice that the title character makes in this film, it is fitting and proper that Davis got this role because she could have had Scarlett, but she wouldn't make Gone With the Wind if it included Errol Flynn as Rhett Butler.
Julie Marsden is as willful and and spiteful a southern belle as Scarlett O'Hara ever could be. But Scarlett would never deliberately violate the code the way Julie does and wear that red dress to a cotillion. Just simply not done in the best families.
Bette Davis is Julie and while she's going to be married to the very proper Henry Fonda, she likes the idea that she can still turn the head of every young blade in New Orleans. Especially George Brent's head as the dashing Buck Cantrell.
When Fonda doesn't jump at her beck and call he prefers doing business to catering to her whims she decides on a daring move. This is a woman who cannot stand not being the center of attention. She wears a red dress to a cotillion when polite society dictates that all the unmarried young ladies wear white. When she does, New Orleans society shuns her as effectively as the Amish can and Davis retreats to her plantation upriver.
Fonda goes north and returns after a while to New Orleans with Margaret Lindsay who he is now married to. An insult our southern belle won't put up with. Davis sets in motion a string of events that results in a lot of tragedy.
I have to say that just a description of the plot seems a bit ridiculous at times, but Bette Davis does make this whole thing quite believable. She won her second Oscar for Best Actress in this film and as her aunt who occasionally gives her a reality check every now and then Fay Bainter was named Best Supporting Actress of 1938.
Fonda and Brent are fine in their parts, but they are in support of Bette Davis in a Bette Davis film. Another performance I liked is that of Donald Crisp as the doctor who fights a lot of prejudice and ignorance in New Orleans in trying to deal with yellow fever.
Looming over all of the film is the knowledge we have that this society will come crashing down in another eight years or so in events so well told in Gone With the Wind. This film should be seen back to back with Gone With the Wind as a view of southern society.
This was Bette Davis's first film with director William Wyler who she admired above all other directors. Davis was not generous with praise for colleagues so any kind words towards one are really something. Apparently Wyler did have the magic touch in handling Bette.
Jezebel is one of Bette Davis's finest films, maybe not the finest, but definitely right up there. Unlike Davis's first Oscar for Dangerous which she said was a consolation for not winning for Of Human Bondage, this one she was proud of. And we're proud of it too.
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